Orange, fennel, and saffron infuse this cooked-in-a-packet meal with provençale flavor. The honshimeji add a toothsome texture to the vegetable mix. Have each person open his own packet and breathe in the aroma before turning it onto the plate. Serve over freshly cooked rice.
- 2 ounces (about 2 cups) dried wood ear mushrooms
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, medium (about 6 ounces each)
- ¼ cup sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons canola oil or vegetable oil
- 1 to 2 large juice oranges
- 4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced, green and white parts separate
- ¼ cup good-quality Gewürztraminer or other white wine
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 small (about 8 ounces) fennel bulb
- 1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 2 × ¼-inch strips (about 1½ cups)
- 4 ounces honshimeji mushrooms, trimmed and cut in half
- ½ cup very thinly shredded fresh basil (optional)
- 4 cups cooked jasmine rice
1. Soak the wood ears in enough hot water to cover until they are softened, about 10 minutes. Drain, discarding the soaking liquid. Cut out and discard the central core from each mushroom. Cut the wood ears into 1-inch strips.
2. Pat the chicken breasts dry with paper towels and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Coat both sides of the chicken breasts with an even layer of sesame seeds.
3. Heat the oil in a medium-size skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook, turning once, until the sesame seeds are deep golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. The chicken will be quite pink in the center. Set aside.
4. Remove 2 teaspoons of grated zest from the orange. Squeeze ½ cup juice from the orange. Combine the scallion whites, wine, butter, saffron, and orange juice in a small saucepan. Heat to a boil over medium-high heat and boil until the liquid is syrupy and reduced to ¼ cup, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the zest, and cool completely.
5. Place the rack in the lowest position of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F.
6. Trim the fennel bulb by cutting off the stalks. Cut the bulb lengthwise into quarters and peel off any thick, tough outer layers. Cut the quarters into ¼-inch-wide slices. Toss the fennel slices, red pepper, honshimeji, basil (if using), wood ear mushrooms, and orange juice together in a small bowl until the vegetables are coated with liquid.
7. Cut 4 pieces of parchment paper or aluminum foil into 14 × 12-inch rectangles. Crease the rectangles crosswise. Make a small mound of the vegetables above the crease of each rectangle. Top each with a chicken breast, running parallel to the crease. Top the chicken breasts with the remaining vegetable mixture. Fold the parchment or foil over to cover the chicken and vegetables. Make several very small folds in the top and both open ends to completely seal the packets. Arrange the packets in a single layer on a baking sheet. (The packets may be made up to 1 day in advance. Cook them directly from the refrigerator, increasing the time to 20 minutes.)
8. Bake for 12 minutes. The packets should be puffed slightly, and in the case of parchment, lightly browned. The chicken should be cooked through and the vegetables crisp-tender. To serve the chicken, place a mound of rice onto 4 individual plates. Open the packets (these are steamy hot; keep your face averted) and push the chicken and vegetables out over rice.
Variation: To substitute fish for chicken, choose a thick steak such as cod or swordfish. Follow the recipe for chicken, skipping step 2 and place steaks in packets up to 1 hour before baking.